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February 01, 2010

February 2010: Beverly Poole Baker, Esq.

Cancer survivor and chief diversity officer for a major firm finds that her disability opened up a new career path.

In 1998, Beverly Poole Baker, Esq. began her successful treatment for Stage III-B lung cancer. She underwent surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy that led to the cancer’s demise and resulted in paralyzed vocal chords and an impaired immune system. Yet in addition to being left with these impairments, she came out with two intangible treasures: a new career path and a desire to fight for diversity within her law firm.

Beverly, a graduate of Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, is the Chief Diversity Officer for Ogletree Deakins and practices alternative dispute resolution (ADR). She was previously a city prosecutor for four years and has a long list of professional accomplishments and affiliations, including: listings in Best Lawyers in America 2008 through 2010; a fellow at the Alabama Law Foundation and the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers; appointment to the Alabama State Bar Professional Support Initiative by the state’s chief justice; former member of the ABA Commission on Opportunities for Minorities in the Profession; and former co-chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee and former council member of the ABA Litigation Section.

Yet before she had her battle with cancer, Beverly did not see herself going down a career path that would allow her to earn such accolades. Due to her cancer treatment, she had paralyzed vocal chords, and was therefore unable to speak in a courtroom on a regular basis. “I had to find a new career path,” she recalled, “after speaking with others, I came across the practice of alternative dispute resolution. I then began training in ADR and developed a greater appreciation for the skill of listening. I lost some of my ability for public speaking, but made up for it by learning new legal skills.”

Learning how to listen also helps Beverly when it comes to working with her firm’s 37 offices to make sure they increase, retain, and develop diverse lawyers. Her efforts include lawyers with disabilities. “I heard of too many doors being shut in the faces of lawyers with disabilities,” she stated, “after my battle with cancer and sustaining damage to my vocal chords, it makes me want to fight that much harder for a diverse law firm and make sure lawyers with disabilities have the assistance they need.”

Beverly makes sure that when offering assistance to minority lawyers and lawyers with disabilities, they have the proper mentor, especially so that attorneys can learn about her firm’s culture. “The single most important thing a new attorney can learn is the firm’s culture: how the firm operates, how the people communicate among one another, or whether the firm values the bottom line over its attorneys,” she said, “I remember one instance when the true nature of my firm’s culture was evident: I was in my hospital bed receiving treatment for pneumonia during the Christmas season, and a few of the female attorneys from the firm called in to see how I was doing and sang carols for me. It was truly touching.”